Les Dirouilles

Several miles off the north east coast, a reef of rocks is gradually revealed as the tide drops. The are largely viewed from afar, their presence indicated by the breaking waves, unleashing their energy following their journey from the storms in the North Atlantic.  This is Les Dirouilles.
It is a reef which I rarely visited until the last few years. It used to be somewhere we passed as opposed to a final destination. In recent years though we have paddled there as a destination in its own right. What has been a revelation is just how easy it is to get.
More than any of the other offshore reefs which surround Jersey, a visit to Les Dirouilles benefits from the tidal streams.  The water runs almost directly from the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater onto the reef.  The crossing is about 4.5 nautical miles and on our speed rarely dropped below 5 knots.  There was a slight drift to the west, indicated on the GPS but it was pretty easy to compensate for, so we drifted gently onto the reef.
We probably arrived a bit too early, so we took advantage of our early arrival to explore some of the more detached rocks to the north of the reef.  Moving into areas I had never paddled in before. After early 50 years of kayaking in Jersey’s waters it is quite amazing to discover small new pockets of coast, waiting to be explored. This was quite a fortunate development as we discovered an absolutely stunning lunch spot.
We were able to land on sand, always so much kinder to the hulls of the kayaks, with lunch being eaten on a raised flat rock, which gave exceptional views of the area. The coastline of France clearly visible to the east and north east, with the nuclear plant at Cap de la Hague shimmering like a mirage on the horizon.
To the south we could see the whole of the north coast of Jersey, stretching from our departure point at St Catherine’s all the way to Grosnez, the north west corner of the Island. To the north west Sark, was the dominant landmark, the location of so much great sea kayaking.
One of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Jersey is the opportunity to visit some of the offshore reefs and from our lunch spot we were able to see 3 of the 4 main reefs. To the west the Paternosters, were visible becoming bigger as the tide dropped. To the east was the Ecrehous and surrounding us was Les Dirouilles, all we needed was the Minquiers for a full set of the reefs but they are to the south of Jersey and therefore invisible from our picnic spot.
After lunch we launched off the small sandy beach, which had been revealed by the ebbing tide. None of us had ever seen this beach before even though it was within 5 miles of where a couple of the paddlers lived.  We explored the southern edge of the reef before heading straight towards Tour de Rozel, the low water slack providing the opportunity for fairly rapid progress.  At the start of the ebb we turned towards St Catherine’s with a speed over the ground in places in excess of 7 knots.
A thoroughly enjoyable paddle for the last Wednesday in September.

Les Dirouilles
Heading towards the reef from St Catherine’s. We were pushed slightly to the east but overall the tidal stream was particularly beneficial
Les Dirouilles
This was a great place to sit for lunch on the last Wednesday in September. The views were exceptional.
Les Dirouilles
Looking back towards the north coast of Jersey. The small sandy beach is just being uncovered.
Les Dirouilles
The views along the north coast were quite amazing. Grosnez, the north west corner of the island is visible in the distance.
Les Dirouilles
Exploring some of the narrow inlets on the south side of the reef. On a previous visit we had landed here as it was a perfect place to swim.
Les Dirouilles
Crossing towards Jersey at low water slack before turning east and using the start of the flood tide to accelerate our journey back to St Catherine’s.

 

Les Dirouilles – a reef to the north of Jersey

To the north east of Jersey there are two reefs, Les Ecrehous and Les Dirouilles.  Without doubt the most popular area of this Ramsar site is Les Ecrehous but today our destination was Les Dirouilles.
It was a large Spring Tide and although the tidal streams were running with significant energy we were able to use some of the speed to our advantage.  It was at times like this that confidence in the GPS is important, monitoring our drift and fine tuning of our bearing ensured that we weren’t swept past the rocks.
Very little has been written about the reef but it is known that in 1816 40 people were drowned when a ship, La Balance, which was sailing from St Malo to Canada struck the reef.  It must have been in totally different conditions to those we experienced on the reef today.
The calm waters, fast moving streams and lack of any other people combined to produce a truly memorable day.
 Approaching Les Dirouilles.  When we left Jersey the tidal streams were running at over 4 knots, fortunately they were mainly in our favour.
 Pete is just visible threading his way through one of the numerous channels.
 Janet with a rather large smile, after a superb crossing from Jersey.
 Landing wasn’t straightforward but it was a great place to swim.
 A very sheltered pool!  There can’t be many days like this at Les Dirouilles.
 Looking north across the reef.  Next stop Alderney, about 30 miles away.

Although we were on the reef for only about an hour, the tide had dropped over a metre, and this wasn’t at the time of maximum change.  The tidal range today was 11 metres.
Time to hitch a ride on the flooding tide back to St Catherine’s.  At times our speed over the ground was over 7 knots.  The joy of a free ride!